Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Is the Corn Up? May is Over.

It's easy to feel "on the fence" about this GriggsDakota Spring. On one hand, our Winter Wheat is growing and we have planted corn and barley. Prices are good and we have been generally optimistic about the growing season. On the other hand, tomorrow is June and we have only had eight days of planting weather, plus our daily high temperatures are ten degrees Fahrenheit below average.
 The girls noticed us on the fence and wanted to know if the corn had popped out of the ground. 
Memorial Day is the traditional day for having the corn up and growing.
And here it is. 
But will it be knee high by the Fourth of July?
There's a lot of summer between now and then. Grow, baby, grow.

Friday, May 27, 2011

On Memorial Day

Who were they? I found the names of these pioneers on the abstract for the land on which my home is built.
James A. Ames, a farmer.
Mary Jane Ames, nine years older than her husband, yet arriving here seven years later to join him at Silent Hill.
 
I have no photos of them, no stories.
James Michener told us in Centennial that "Only the rocks live forever."
If that is true, the land remembers the Ames family.
The sky could tell their story.
They made their mark on the land by planting the tree claim.
The sky might tell us that they planted the patch of rhubarb in the yard.
According to the land abstract that I perused, they arrived here in 1889 to claim this land.
They might have come by covered wagon, as many pioneers did. A real Conestoga wagon, not a toy.
Perhaps their belongings were packed in a trunk like this one, but not this trunk.
This week a bird was singing in a tree above the rhubarb patch. I wondered if descendants of the Ames family would ever knock on the door here and want to remember.
The few pieces of old machinery that have escaped the scrap iron heap are not from the Ames tenure. Nothing is the same as it was when they sold out in 1927, the year of Mr. Ames death.
The grandchildren, however great, could press a leaf from an original tree in their genealogy book
Or be satisfied by pulling some rhubarb from the patch.
 I learned from my Great Aunt Iris that the Ames family had only a daughter. Victoria Ames, was a beautiful teenage girl who rode the horse drawn school bus with Iris about a hundred years ago. Victoria had no children. Nearly 106 years old now, Iris remembers. No heir, apparently. Yet the land continues.
I picked the rhubarb.
And cut off the tops while wearing a winter jacket in the cold May morning. The wind was sharp and the sky was cloudy as it often is on a May morning in GriggsDakota. It blew from the sky when the Ames family tended this yard, as well.
Did Mary Jane Ames have a pump in her kitchen? Probably not, her wash water came from bucket to basin to wash the rhubarb stalks.
The Ames family surely enjoyed jams and sauces made from rhubarb grown in this yard a hundred years ago.
Next winter, when the rhubarb plants are frozen and the patch is snow covered, my family will enjoy pies and muffins made with rhubarb that I prepared and stockpiled in our freezer. 
So it may be in a hundred years, with another family enjoying rhubarb treats.
I think that is how the rocks live forever. People come and go on this earth, but the land and sky remember.
Have a happy Memorial Day.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Dandelions: Wonderful Weeds

Can you remember back to a time early in your life when you would look at a scene similar to the one above and see the beautiful dandelions? 
You and your friends might rub the blossoms on one another's chin and say, "Your chin is yellow. You love butter!"
 Of course, we all loved butter and dandelions. Sometimes we would weave them into decorations, quickly, of course. Their sticky milk would cover our hands, but we didn't mind.
We loved to pick them and put them in a glass of water, only to watch them close up. Sometimes they wilted before we could use them as a centerpiece for the next meal. 
 No worries, there were always more beautiful dandelions, waiting to be picked. No one ever told us not to touch them.
 If dandelions were difficult, with strict growing requirements of soil types and care, everyone would love them, I believe. Gardeners would prize them and fuss with them. Dandelions would be a Spring treasure that people would drive around to see. 
 
We would devise mesh bags to capture seeds from the most beautiful plants. 
They would be sunshine spreading Springtime on the land. 
Looks are deceiving. 
They are actually noxious weeds with a deep tap root that is invading grasslands.
Dandelions rob moisture and nutrients from farmland and are difficult to control.
 
Fewer dandelions would be just dandy in GriggsDakota.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Back to Field Work

 Work has resumed after our weekend rain.
 It was not as much as had been forecast, but enough to stop progress for three days. Although the sun is shining, it is cold, with today's high in the low 50's.
We have changed our planting order and our corn is in the ground. It may prove lucky that things are running late as frost is a possibility in the next couple of days. 
We could not return to finish the field that we had started when the rain came last Friday afternoon because it was too wet. 
 Farmer Fred scouted out this light soil to get started on. We had planned to plant canola here, but plans keep changing as we plant what is accessible. From here he can move on or back to finish what was started on Friday, depending on how wet things are.
 There seems to be a bit of dust being raised as the machines travel on the field, but it is not from the soil. The surface trash is dry and powdery, which is all good as we push forward.
We work around the low spots, most filled with water and plant all we can cover as the sun shines once again in GriggsDakota.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

About the Plow

When Farmer Fred and I were younger, we lived off the farm. We spent time driving to the farm and back to our home nearly every week during the farming season and often in the winter. You know how families are, familiar and knowing what to expect without words. When making the frequent decision of whether or not to drive to the farm a few key phrases developed. Should we go to the farm? Well, it's too windy to stack BB's and it's too wet to plow. 
There are three elements in that sentence that are integral to farming in GriggsDakota:  
Wind - nearly constant and often sharp and strong.
Wet - too much moisture or too little. Rarely the perfect balance.
Plow - The plains were originally a grassland. The plow made it farmland. Pioneers came with seed, a plow, and a cow in a wagon pulled by horses or oxen to carve out a life.
Having been raised a good Lutheran, I feel compelled to give explanations, just as Luther's Small Catechism did for every important point included in each study. "What does this mean for your life?" it would ask me. It provided the concise answer in the paragraph that followed the question. When you were a catechism student, there was no time to contemplate, you just had to memorize the book. The meaning of life's biggest questions were clearly mapped out. 
This is most certainly true.
But I digress, let's talk plow.
After a bit of research on the Internet, I found The American Agriculturist of 1859 on Google Books. 
The plow, even then, was viewed to be inadequate. Of course, it was then limited in its usefulness by the beasts that pulled it, horses or oxen.
It had some wooden parts back then,
 rather than iron and steel with hydraulic hosing.
 But the implement itself compresses the soil that it lifts and loosens the soil that it leaves in the furrow. It was acknowledged even in 1859 to provide an inadequate seed bed when finished.
 It must be followed by cultivator and harrow.  As Farmer Fred would say, "That's a lot of passes." In modern farming we are always looking to reduce our passes over the ground to reduce fuel consumption and man hours.
It also leaves the earth vulnerable to wind, especially during our long, often dry winters. Dirt has blown off plowed fields in great clouds during snowless winters on the plains. Eroding the precious topsoil that the plow turned to expose. 
We convened a meeting of the GriggsDakota Board of directors which came to the following conclusion: 
It is now, officially, too late to plow in GriggsDakota.